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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Western focus: River Ranch brings cowboy culture to events

River Ranch Stockyards

Founder-owners; Steve and Phillip Murrin

Purpose: Producing western events to entertain and educate

Address: 500 NE 23rd St.

Fort Worth 76164

817-624-1111

Website: riverranchstockyards.com

When tourists drive along Exchange Street through the heart of Fort Worth Stockyards, they get plenty of images of the West.

But there’s also a spacious property on the southeast edge of the Stockyards that offers a clear representation of cowboy culture.

It’s called River Ranch, and it’s served up to 5,000 guests, people who have a hankering to play cowboy in Cowtown. The staff offers all varieties of functions ranging from corporate events to weddings to fundraisers and family gatherings.

“Our big push is the give our out-of-town guests a true taste of Fort Worth,” said Josh Barbaro, River Ranch’s general manager. “We’ve gone more Texas from top to bottom as far as rodeo activities, cuisine and bar selections that give a true Texas feel.”

Guests can engage in Western flavored activities ranging from dining on barbeque or huge tender steak, to listening to country/western music and two stepping, to receiving a lecture of western culture that’s very hands on and explains the historic role that the Fort Worth Stockyards played in the Western life and culture.

“First and foremost, we like to tailor to each guest,” Barbaro said. “Every guest is going to want a different activity. So, it’s getting with them and trying to figure out what their perception of Texas is and building a package around that that showcases what we feel is the true Texas.

“Everybody’s seen big belt buckles and big hats, but they might not know what the history is behind that. So, we’re educators in a sense, but we are in the hospitality business. We have to bring them up to speed in the western culture and show them what we do with hospitality.”

River Ranch also brings in authentic cowboys who articulately offer education on western life. It’s called “Cowboy University.”

“We actually get them out there with a true Texas cowboy who shows them roping and riding and gives them the history of the Stockyards and the history of rodeo events and western culture,” Barbaro said. “It just depends on how deep they want to dive into that. It can be anything to give them a feel ranging from trick roping to getting in the chute and sitting on a bull to calf scrambles to showing them how to rope on a dummy.”

In addition to entertainer stages, dance floors and western saloon scenes, River Ranch also offers an outdoor rodeo arena with bucking chutes. When there’s a rodeo event, CK Reid, who supplies the livestock for the weekly rodeo at the Stockyard’s Cowtown Coliseum, also supplies the stock for the rodeo events at River Ranch.

One satisfied customer is Crystal Cardwell, the former director of development at The Parenting Center Fort Worth who currently serves as sales director at Top Golf in Fort Worth. Cardwell contracted River Ranch to produce an event called “Feast in the Fort” last year to raise money for the Parenting Center that went toward child abuse prevention.

River Ranch hosted a gala event that served about 275 people.

“Josh, the GM, is phenomenal and very meticulous in details and the space was absolutely perfect for what we were doing,” Cardwell said. “They provide everything in house, which makes it very convenient when you’re booking there. With the other places that I’ve booked we’ve had to bring in the linens and the tables, but with River Ranch, all of those things are in the cost.”

Cardwell said River Ranch helped them conduct their event cost effectively.

“They helped us raise more money at this event because they helped us keep a handle on our cost,” Cardwell said. “They provided everything we needed to turnkey our event with little outside help. That’s really big when you’re doing an event like this, to be able to make a one-stop shop.”

One important history lesson that guests can learn at River Ranch is Fort Worth’s storied history of once being a stronghold of cattle sales and meat packing. It’s located in the same area of the Stockyards that were the locations of the Swift and Armour meat packing plants, which were built in the early 1900s.

During the first half of the 20th century, both plants conducted massive business. The Armour Plant closed in 1962 and the Swift plant closed in 1971.

Today, most of the packing plants’ buildings have been demolished. But River Ranch offers history lesson and a reminder of a world-renowned Stockyards that had a daily rush of livestock handling activity.

The Fort Worth Stockyards was established more than a century ago and River Ranch was established in 1991 to help preserve the Stockyards storied history. The business was established in 1991 by Fort Worth natives Steve and Phillip Murrin and it’s reminiscent of the Stockyards as a rustic retreat that greeted late 1800s cattle drovers before that made that last big move toward driving cattle up the Chisholm Trail.

Steve Murrin, who is often billed as the mayor of the Fort Worth Stockyards, is a longtime advocate of cowboy culture and preserving the Stockyards’ history. River Ranch has been a natural fit for Murrin who said, “Everything we do has to be themed Western.”

Ashlee Reid, who serves as River Ranch’s marketing director, said the business represents an important part of Fort Worth Stockyards and western history in a very festive atmosphere.

“The best thing about River Ranch is it’s a piece and part of Stockyards history being related to Armour and Swift and the packing plants,” Reid said. “It’s a unique venue that sits on the location of those two places. It offers a real variety of capabilities such as having a wedding or a corporate event. When people walk in to River Ranch, they get a Texas welcome and a feel that you’re right in the heart of Texas and in the heart of a national historic district.”

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